In a presentation for Reading Plus, University of California professor and www.textproject.org founder Dr. Elfrieda H. Hiebert shares her “best stuff” around vocabulary and the Common Core (video here and Powerpoint here). Below are some highlights from her speech entitled, “The First Key to Unlocking Complex Text: A Generative Vocabulary” including her seven word facts and implications for instruction.
9:45: Dr. Hiebert notes that many teachers, when the text gets complex for students, are tempted to read the text for students. She challenges this approach and notes that when teachers read the text for students, only the teacher gets better at reading. Hiebert continues that when text is challenging for students, it is very likely a background knowledge deficit that then can be linked to a vocabulary knowledge deficit.
The word facts begin at minute 13:37. They are
- Knowledge is “stored” in texts
- English has a vast repository of words, making it impossible to teach all them.
- A small group of words does the heavy lifting in text (19:13). That is there is a group of 4000 word families that make up 90% of the words we read. This is exemplified in the table below. Being poor with these 4000 word families make comprehension very challenging.
- Words are part of families. Morphological relationships are critical and students need lots of opportunities to work with morphemes and to study words.
- Words are parts of networks. The networks in narrative texts are synonyms related to story elements.
- The networks in informational texts are topical with interrelated concept clusters.
- Concrete words are learned and retained more readily than abstract words (minute 29:50).
At minute 31:43 Hiebert shares strategies for instruction including the value of exposing students to new topics and the vocabulary associated with these topics. One resource to help with this is the free magazine FYI for Kids (here). Additionally, to help students with word families, she highlights the use of E4 that can be downloaded for free here.
You can watch the full video here.